The Foreclosure Fiasco - NYTimes.com
It’s been five days since Jessica Silver-Greenberg’s article on the latest bank settlement was posted on The New York Times’s Web site. I’m still shaking my head. Her “story behind the story” of the $8.5 billion settlement between federal bank regulators and 10 banks over their foreclosure misdeeds illustrates just about everything that is wrong with the way the government has handled the Great Foreclosure Crisis.
Shall we count the ways?
1. It is more about public relations than problem-solving. Pick a program — any program — that the Obama administration unveiled to help troubled homeowners over the past four years. Not one has amounted to a hill of beans.
This settlement is no different. The country’s primary bank regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — which, along with the Federal Reserve, engineered the settlement — is trying to make it look like a victory. Of the $8.5 billion, $3.3 billion will go directly to foreclosed-upon borrowers, making it “the largest cash payout to date,” according to Bryan Hubbard, the O.C.C.’s chief spinmeister. (The rest of the money will consist of reduced interest payments and loan modifications.)
In truth, the O.C.C. needed to save face after a foreclosure review process it had mandated had become an expensive fiasco. As amply demonstrated by Silver-Greenberg and American Banker, the government insisted that the banks hire expensive consultants to do a review of every foreclosure that took place in 2009 and 2010. The consultants racked up more than $1 billion in fees, while proceeding at such a molasseslike pace that the feds and the banks finally threw up their hands. The settlement made the whole thing go away.
2. Accountability? What’s that? We have known for a long time that overwhelmed bank servicers took shortcuts, like robo-signing, that violated many state laws. They also put people through hell who were trying to get a modified mortgage. “I’ve seen marriages break up because of what banks put families through,” says Elizabeth Lynch of MFY Legal Services. All this settlement does is push those misdeeds under an $8.5 billion rug.
3. It won’t actually help anybody. The settlement will cover some 3.8 million foreclosures. The government is going to distribute $3.3 billion dollars. It comes to around $868 per lost home.
Of course, the O.C.C. says that is the wrong way to look at it: Some people — military personnel, for instance — could get